Our cruise to Alaska was a wonderful experience and we thoroughly enjoyed it …but not in the way we expected. Before embarking on the cruise , we had heard a lot about such cruises from friends who had taken one earlier. Mostly the talk was about the glaciers and the wildlife. For us, the reality was quite different from what we had imagined . There were no cliffs of ice collapsing into the sea, no large floating icebergs ( those I think can only be seen in Antartica), no close encounters with whales and moose and bears ( though tour guides kept saying how they had seen them on a trip just the other day or just last week). We did see several mother seals and their pups on the floating ice in Tracy Arm Fjord and there were plenty of golden eagles wheeling about in Juneau and Ketchikan but as for anything else… nada , zip, nothing. We could perhaps have taken a whale watching excursion but such trips are expensive and , in my opinion and that of others, not worth it ; besideswhale sightings are not guaranteed . This was not a disappointment because even had we seen these animals it would have been only at a distance and from far away. To really get a close up look , one would be better off going to the zoo or to SeaWorld or watching a nature video.
What was most enjoyable was the natural beauty and the sheer size of Alaska. We saw only a small corner of south east Alaska but it gave us an appreciation for the vastness and the unspoiled nature of the Alaskan wilderness. When one thinks about Alaska, one thinks of it as it is in winter, snowcovered and freezing ly cold. Alaska in summer is a different proposition. The peaks are still snow covered but the land is green , the temperatures in the fifties even in late May.The tree covered hills, the thousands of little waterfalls coursing down them , the hundreds of little islands and the miles and miles of coastline without any human habitation whatsoever are scenes that stick in one’s memory. The towns too are enjoyable and have a sixties feel to them. Most of the land excursions are expensive and deliver less than they seem to promise. I don’t regret taking the Duck Tour in Ketchikan ( we’d never ridden in an amhibious vehicle before) or the tramway up the hillside in Juneau but the van tour of Juneau” to see the glacier’and the rail-bus journeys in Skagway are a costly waste. Stay away from the shops selling jewelry ; their markups are exorbitant. One piece of jewelry that my wife liked was originally offered at $ 1,200 but the shopkeeper eventually came down to $ 350. ( No, we did not buy it). A trip without ‘souvenirs’ is unthinkable but think twice before you buy an Ullu knife, a half moon-shaped knife that is a smaller version of the italian mezzaluna . When you come back to the ship it you have to surrender it for storage in the ships lockers; you can reclaim it only after you disembark. Aside from the inconvenience, I doubt how much use it will be put to once you return home; an ullu doesn’t do anything an ordinary knife doesn’t. We’ve used our’s exactly once in the two weeks we ‘ve been back and that was just to try it out.
If I had known then what I know now I’d have read up on Alaska before we started out on the cruise.A week or two spent reading an Alaska guidebook ( Frommers is a goodone ) and a short history of Alaska particularly the Gold Rush days would have made me more knowledgeable than any tour guide and made our exploration of the towns so much more interesting.